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Human Rights Adrift from Natural Law: A Review of Itamar Mann’s ‘Humanity at Sea’

Published on August 3, 2017        Author: 

What is the source of human rights law?  Itamar Mann’s new book, Humanity at Sea: Maritime Migration and the Foundations of International Law, offers a thoughtful and original answer to this age-old question.  He suggests that human rights law is neither positive law nor natural law, but rather a “commitment to paradoxically and counterfactually regard some form of imperative as extra-political.” (13)  Mann argues that this imperative originates in a dyadic (rather than collective) encounter with the presence of another person, presenting the “universal boatperson” to illustrate this concept. (12-13)

The book is structured as a series of rich case studies, which Mann utilizes exceptionally effectively.  Through exegesis and context, he provides new understanding of and insights into familiar situations and cases, including the stories of Jewish displaced persons traveling to Palestine, refugees fleeing Vietnam by boat, Haitians pursuing protection in the United States, and African migrants seeking safety on the shores of Europe.  We see here both the political theorist and the human rights reporter in action, drawing in the reader with detailed and fascinating stories, and drawing out the theoretical implications in provocative new ways.  Read the rest of this entry…

 

The Role of Human Rights Law in Constructing Migration Emergencies

Published on February 24, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of the ESIL Interest Group on International Human Rights Law blog symposium on ‘The Place of International Human Rights Law in Times of Crisis’.

Migration emergencies are ubiquitous in today’s world.  News media report daily on the situation of Syrian migrants crossing the Mediterranean in rubber dinghies, of Central American mothers and their children traversing inhospitable deserts to reach the southern U.S. border, or of controversial efforts to keep at bay Afghans and Iraqis aiming for Australian shores in overcrowded ships.  The story line often runs as follows: this dramatic and unforeseen increase in migration is a crisis that risks overwhelming the receiving nations’ ability to process and absorb these migrants.  Media analysts and politicians suggest multiple factors provoking these crises.  Some foreground the life-threatening dangers that migrants face on their journeys.  Many more stoke fears about the national security and cultural threats that mass influxes present to migrant-receiving nations.  But there is very little critical analysis of the underlying assumption that these migrant flows are unexpected and unpredictable.  Even less is said about the role of international law, and human rights law in particular, in constructing these emergencies.

Migration “emergencies” are, contrary to their moniker, foreseeable outcomes of the contemporary international legal framework.  Human rights law relating to migration provides the backbone of this problematic legal structure.  Mass influx movements of migrants are predictable reactions to violent conflict and structural violence as well as to low-wage labor needs in destination states.  In situations of violence, the flow of migrants often increases steadily, offering sufficient lead time for destination states to prepare for these flows, but is instead initially ignored and then transformed into a “crisis” that grabs the public eye. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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